The Loneliness of Grief

“The first few months will be hard but you’ll be okay because you have each other.” – my mother

“What are you scared of, I left you a lot of sisters and brothers, everything you need.” – my father

Caring for parents that are actively dying from sickness means having an open awareness of their approaching death. Every moment with them has an end date attached.
My mother though, she didn’t want to talk about her death, ever. She was positive and optimistic she would live until the very end. She never stopped believing. That conversation we had, only a few minutes long, where we finally spoke about the ‘after’, only took place within the last week before her passing. My father, on the other hand, which sometimes felt like a welcome change, openly acknowledged his approaching death or rather death in life and in general. “So what,” he told my sister, “If I’m here or not I’m still loving, even if I’m upstairs so what, you think mommy doesn’t love you now?”

A whole world of emotion, pain, love and faith in a broken sentence. I saw the recording of this and was shocked to hear these words from my father’s mouth. He thought about his own death a lot. We created a will and a plan and we spoke often about it. My parents’ deaths were different in the way they dealt with the knowledge that their time was coming to an end a lot sooner than they expected, but they both said the same thing before they passed.
That we had each other.

Family. Siblings. Cousins, aunts, uncles. Friends. It was such a simple statement from both of them. I remember being shocked my mother could tell me a few days before she died that she thought I was actually going to be okay without her, just because I have siblings. So? Did she not understand what was happening? But she was confident in this. And so was my dad. He always told us how important it was, how natural to him and of course, no questions asked, he was always going to have as many children as God would give him. He said he gave us the best thing a father can give to his children. And he hated fights between us. And let me tell you, there is nothing that could break a family apart like death and loss of a parent, and loss of a house, and so many things. And there were times we were broken. And I struggled to find the pieces, or even to want to put them back together at all. There were moments when I thought I could do it all alone.

But I couldn’t have been more wrong. I could not do any of this alone. Not now and not ever.

I write a lot about hopeful endings and positive thoughts because I hate ending posts with negativity, and I hate leaving things unsaid and with a bitter heart. But the truth is, there is so much ugliness in grief and loss. There is a big hole of loneliness that only has a bottomless pit you can fall into. The loneliness of grief.

There are times when you feel that no one could and would ever understand what you are going through. Even a sibling that lost the same parents. Even a friend that had cancer take away her parent, or Covid kill the other. Everyone, no matter how connected and how close or how far apart, will feel lonely in grief. This is inevitable. No one could understand your personal pain and suffering, your personal loss of the relationship you had, the hardships you had to endure. No one can help soothe this pain.

You can get lost in this loneliness. The other day, during my birthday week, I laid in bed and cried silently. I didn’t even have a voice to cry with or words to shout. I didn’t even realize I was crying. I was just feeling. And then I felt tears fall on my cheeks. I never felt that low before. Worthless, lonely, sad, orphaned. To me, the absence of my parents’ love is the biggest loneliness I could ever feel. Because there is nothing comparable to a parent’s love for a child. I know that I will never have someone love me the way my parents loved me. And this absence, knowing that I will never have someone love me this unconditional way again, is incredibly lonely. Because so many times, I just want to be held, loved and taken care of. I just want to be somebody’s child.

My mother gave me one hundred percent of unconditional love. Full, warm, and smooth.

My father gave me commitment. No matter what I needed, or when and how, my father took care of me and always took care of his family.

The absence of these two things feel unbearable to hold and to live without. And there are days and nights when it is. It actually is unbearable. I don’t go on my phone. I don’t eat. I don’t leave my bed. I cry into my pillow. I remember the suffering they went through and the way they died and how we will all die so soon and I contemplate why I even get up every day and go to work and continue to live.

But I can’t help and acknowledge how blessed I am that I get to wake up the next morning. That every new day is a blessing and a choice to move forward. A new beginning. And my parents left me with 10 siblings to help me through it, and I created beautiful friendships along the way to push me even further. These are my strengths now. Not my parents pushing me forward, but these people I surround myself with.
I will never have my mother celebrating another birthday with me, but I will have my aunt creating a beautiful shabbos lunch with balloons, cakes and birthday hats. And I will never have my father to go home to again, but I will have my sister’s open house for weekly dinners and my brother’s the next week. And I will have these people to hold onto. And I will have the choice to write this down, to acknowledge the power of my actions and my thoughts, of the power of the loneliness we feel and the connection we can experience just one day apart.

A close friend of mine who lost a parent told me that all the moments we experience are meaningful. The ones that aren’t as tough, and the ones that are the worst. They all matter.

In a way, these early days of grieving (*define early at your own pace) are the most beautiful. They’re the most raw, the most vulnerable, the deepest pain, the lowest of lows. You feel such a strong connection to the one you lost. The thread burns so deeply into your veins, it is the fire that keeps you awake at night. And it can feel that this fire will never burn out. But it will. Because even if you are so afraid of it, and deep down you don’t actually want to, time heals.

The memory of my mother is already two years old now. The pain will last me forever, but it is nothing compared to those early days when I would openly weep in agony and scream and beg for her to come back. I don’t beg anymore. I plead many times, and I cry and write and look at photos and wish this wasn’t my life, but I don’t have that thread of fire anymore. It’s settled and nestled into my bones, and it roughened my edges, but I know with every passing day that my memory fades more and more and that early pain I once had is lessened as I get used to no longer having a mother.

My father died 12 weeks ago, and since the day after his funeral I have been pushing down that fire before it could even breathe. And two nights ago was the first night that I felt it clawing its way up my throat and forcing me to feel the rage as it coursed through my body and I sat there and I shuddered with the pain of grief and I remembered him in every thought I could conjure and with every ounce of my being, I felt and remembered and clung to. Grief is a powerful and physical force. But it has a breaking point, and a rising one. A continuous wavelength of ups and downs.

Last week I celebrated my birthday and it felt like I was holding in one very long breath. I felt heavy all week, and only after I cried at the end, after all the parties were done and the songs were sang, was I able to breathe again. Only after I felt and recognized my anguish was I able to go out again and smile and truly celebrate another year that God gave me, another day since my birth, another chance to do more. Only after I let myself fall was I able to get back up again. And I know it doesn’t get more cliche than that. But I write this as a reminder to not only myself, but to all those who are suffering in one way or another, who are experiencing loss or sadness or all kinds of trauma. For everything and everyone in life, but especially to anyone grieving, and especially to those in the early days, months, and years. Let this be a reminder to you.

Let yourself feel.

Feel, fall, and the next day, I promise you, you’ll be able to stand.

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